Antiwar Groups Plan Surge on Washington

United for Peace antiwar demos

Peace activists from around the United States will converge on Washington Saturday for what organizers hope will be the largest demonstration to date against the Iraq war.

“We expect a turnout in the six figures,” said Tom Andrews, a former Democratic congressman who now runs the group Win Without War, which is organizing the march along with True Majority, Working Assets, the RainbowPUSH Coalition, the National Organization for Women and the national umbrella group United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ).

UFPJ’s Leslie Cagan told IPS that the level of energy in the antiwar movement has spiked since the November election, when voters ended Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.

“The voters of this country figured out that they could use the November elections as a vehicle to voice their opposition to the war,” Cagan said. “What happened there was that the voters gave Congress a mandate to end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home.”

That success at the polls gave antiwar citizens more optimism that a large demonstration might make an impact, she said.

In mid-November, United for Peace and Justice called a demonstration for the nation’s capital for Jan. 27, with other large mobilizations planned for Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco.

In addition, smaller actions are planned for more than 50 cities. In Bismark, North Dakota, the group Surge for Peace will be delivering petitions to members of the local congressional delegation. In Austin, Texas, the Stop the War coalition is hosting a march and rally featuring student activists, Green Party activists, and members of the group Veterans for Peace.

A full listing of all marches nationwide is on the group’s website

“People started saying to us right after the election ‘well, what is Congress going to do?'” Cagan said. “And we quickly realized the real question is ‘what are we going to do to push this Congress to do what they said they were going to do to get elected.’ So we figured we had to get people into Washington as soon as possible after the new session of Congress began.”

Organizers said five or six Democratic lawmakers are expected to speak at the rally in Washington, and that Representative Barbara Lee will speak at the Los Angeles gathering.

“A lot more would be speaking but we simply don’t have the time on stage,” said former congressman Andrews. “If we had all day and there was unlimited time for members of Congress to speak we’d have many members of Congress.”

Peace activists will have to fight hard if they want to end the war. In recent weeks, President George W. Bush has proposed escalating the war by sending 21,500 additional U.S. soldiers to Iraq. At least 3,000 troops are already on their way.

In his annual State of the Union address Tuesday night, Bush told a joint session of Congress he “chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success.”

“Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq, because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching,” he added.

While lawmakers from both political parties have put forward proposals condemning Bush’s plan to escalate the war, none are binding.

In addition, the new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, along with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, have already said they don’t support efforts to cut funding for the war.

In the official Democratic response to Bush’s state of the union address, freshman Senator Jim Webb of Virginia focused more on strategy and tactics than the merits of the war itself.

“We need a new direction,” said Webb, whose son is currently deployed as a soldier in Iraq. “The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought, nor does the majority of our military.”

In his speech, Sen. Webb favored “regionally based diplomacy, a policy that takes our soldiers off the streets of Iraq’s cities, and a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.”

But he also opposed a “withdrawal that ignores the possibility of further chaos.”

United for Peace and Justice’s Leslie Cagan told IPS that the mixed message from the Democrats makes a large turnout at Saturday’s demonstration particularly important.

“That’s why it’s critical to keep the pressure on,” she said. “We are encouraging every single person who agrees with us who can possibly make the trip to Washington this coming weekend to be with us,” adding that the antiwar movement is staging a lobby day on Capital Hill for Monday Jan. 29.

“Now we know it’s a big country and everyone can’t make the trip,” she added. “That’s why we’ve organized demonstrations for over 50 cities across the country including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.”

(Inter Press Service)